Think of Facebook's news feed as one big popularity contest, not all that different from high school. This time around, though, you get to control just how popular you (and your business) are, and you won't need braces or a nose job to do it.
During the f8 conference in April, Ari Steinberg, a Facebook engineer, introduced the public to EdgeRank, an algorithm Facebook uses to decide whose status updates and posts will get the highest placement on an individual's "top news feed." This default setting is different from the "most recent news feed" option, because the top news feed automatically selects the posts it believes one will be most interested in based on their Facebook behavior.
EdgeRank quantifies that behavior. The formula is based on three factors:
1) how often two people interact on Facebook
2) how many comments and likes a particular post has and
3) how old the post is.
In Facebook lingo, these three qualifications are termed affinity, edge, and decay, respectively.
Affinity scores increase the more you and an individual exchange messages, wall posts, comments, and links. A particular post's edge value increases the more comments and likes it accrues. Decay is the one factor users can't necessarily control, as a posts' age will automatically weaken its EdgeRank.
So what does this mean to your business? We've hashed out how to encourage comments, likes, links, and shares, to make your Facebook page as popular as the prom king and queen.
Mastering Facebook News Feed Optimization (NFO): Optimize Your Phrasing.
In order to get people to interact with your Facebook page, you need to treat your posts as part of a conversation. This entails asking questions of your followers and friends. Jeff Widman is CEO of Brand Glue, a consulting company based in Mountain View, California. Widman helps companies, such as the personal finance service Mint, engage Facebook audiences.
"Put the question first, rather than last," Widman advises clients. "Ask a question where people don't need to click through a link to give you an answer."
For instance, one recent Mint post on Facebook read: "Who will you be cheering for during the World Cup? Check out our newest Infographic on the Economics of the World Cup," followed by a link. The post yielded eight likes and 29 comments, every one listing the name countries people were rooting for. That's 29 comments more than the post might have received if it simply read: "Check out our newest Infographic on the Economics of the World Cup," with a link.
Make your questions relatable, and don't dampen them with industry jargon that the greater Facebook community won't understand, let alone interact with.
If all your posts are questions, though, your followers might get bored. That's why another tactic Brand Glue advocates is fill-in-the-blank posts. For instance, Mint posted: "Fill in the blank: I'm saving money to buy ____," which resulted in 210 comments and 13 likes.
Or, if all else fails, don't be afraid to ask. Mint put this strategy to good use posting: "Like if you're graduating this spring or know someone who is. Congrats to all those graduating! Take Charge of Your Student Loans," which gained 80 likes and several comments.
"Ask for comments and likes," Widman says. "That's the immediately actionable strategy."
Dig Deeper: Facebook's News Feed Formula
Mastering Facebook News Feed Optimization (NFO): Post Multimedia Content
Facebook did not reveal whether or not videos, photos and polls have a greater "edge" than text posts, but experts still say they seem to help increase your EdgeRank.
According to Reggie Bradford, CEO of social media management company Vitrue, which is based in Atlanta, "It gives the consumer the ability to engage with that content. If they watch the video or click on the photo to enlarge it, that'd show up higher on the EdgeRank."
But just because you're posting video or photo content, doesn't mean you shouldn't offer up a question, too. Amy Marshall, owner of Ohio's Webbed Marketing says, "Post a photo or video of an advertising campaign, and then say, 'What are your thoughts?'"
Mint employed this tactic, posting: "Have you tamed your debt demon? Watch the end of our Quest for Credit saga," followed by a link to the original video.
Dig Deeper: 12 Steps to Improved Social Media Presence
Mastering Facebook News Feed Optimization (NFO): Friend, Fan, and Tag Strategically
Before you show up in someone's news feed, you need to be friends with them or fans of their page (they can be fans of yours too, which we'll explain below). This means that you need to target specific individuals and businesses to friend and fan. Even if you've friended your top clients, you should pay attention to who their friends are and who they interact with on a regular basis. The more you interact with their friends, the more likely you are to show up on their feeds.
"If I represent a hospital, I'd want to fan as many people as I can to get those key players within the community," Marshall says. "If I'm national, I want national media as my friend and follower. I want to friend partners and alliances. Then see who's talking. Who are the advocates? Who are the voices for the brand?"
Some will be easy to interact with, but if you're interested in targeting one demographic that seems unresponsive, you may want to try tagging them in your posts and photos. To tag in a post, put the "@" sign before the person or business's name, then select the correct name from the drop down menu.
"When you name drop or mention someone, it shows on their profile," Marshall advises, and the more exposure you get on the walls of key players, the better.
Dig Deeper: Using Social Networking to Drive Your Business
Mastering Facebook News Feed Optimization (NFO): Customize Your Pages to Stand Out
If your business has a fan page, it may be worth customizing the welcome page that new users see when they visit the page. "When someone visits your page, you try to convert them to a 'liker,'" Widman says, so make sure your welcome page is a good representation of your brand.
Customizing a welcome tab isn't all that easy, though. You'll need to use Facebook's Static FBML app, but unless you're already adept at HTML, it'd be a good idea to enlist the help of a Web developer. There are some video tutorials to help you through the process on YouTube.
You can also enhance your business's Facebook presence by adding a Like button to your website. The Facebook Developers site offers step-by-step directions on adding Like buttons, but again, it does involve a fair bit of coding. The benefits of adding a Like button to another website, though, is that you may pick up fans who are using your website, but have yet to interact with you on Facebook.
Dig Deeper: How to Get Customers on Facebook and Twitter
Mastering Facebook News Feed Optimization (NFO): Pay Attention to Timing
Know who your friends and fans are and when they're on Facebook. Remember, decay weakens your EdgeRank, so you want to make sure you're sending posts at the exact moment your followers will see it.
Pay attention to how often you're posting. As Bradford says: "You don't want to post so frequently that you're overdoing it, but you don't want to post so infrequently that you're irrelevant." In general, however, Bradford says the more you post the better, as long as you're not spamming peoples' feeds.
Dig Deeper: How to Advertise on Facebook
Mastering Facebook News Feed Optimization (NFO): Additional Resources